NBA drops the ball with Robert Sarver discipline

Phoenix Suns minority owner receives a slap on the wrist 

Image by: Curtis Heinzl
The punishment needs to fit the crime.

On Sept. 13, the NBA concluded its investigation into Phoenix Suns minority owner Robert Sarver, punishing his workplace misconduct with a one-year suspension and $10 million fine.

As per the official NBA report, Sarver repeatedly used the N-word in conversation and made inappropriate, sex-related comments to female employees. Curiously, even with all this information, the investigation “made no finding that Mr. Sarver’s workplace misconduct was motivated by racial or gender-based animus.”

In light of this ruling, high-profile NBA players and media personalities have expressed frustration at the underwhelming discipline—for Sarver, who is reportedly worth around $800 million, the fine is little more than a slap on the wrist. 

Unfortunately, this incident is just another example of professional sports leagues being afraid to truly make stern statements when it comes to harassment. 

Back in 2014, former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling was banned for life after racist calls between him and his then-girlfriend were made public. The severity of the unprecedented decision to exile Sterling satisfied most parties; they deemed he’d been appropriately punished. 

However, in knowing what happened to Sterling, the NBA’s recent unwillingness to put their foot down and exile Sarver looks even more cowardly. The groundwork has been laid for dealing with racist and toxic owners, yet, for whatever reason, they deviated from it. 

LeBron James openly condemned the decision on Twitter, writing, “I gotta be honest… Our league definitely got this wrong. I don’t need to explain why. Y’all read the stories and decide for yourself. I said it before and I’m gonna say it again, there is no place in this league for that kind of behavior.”

In one of the stories in question, Sarver used the N-word multiple times when discussing Golden State Warriors forward Draymond Green. 

In interviews, his employees also recounted instances in which he passed around a photo of his wife wearing a bikini and bragged about her performing oral sex on him. They also recounted him asking women whether he “owned” them on several occasions. 

Like James, superstar point guard Chris Paul voiced his displeasure on Twitter.

“This conduct especially towards women is unacceptable and must never be repeated,” he wrote. “I am of the view that the sanctions fell short in truly addressing what we can all agree was atrocious behavior. My heart goes out to all of the people that were affected.”

PayPal, the current on-jersey sponsor of the Phoenix Suns, has stated they will not renew their partnership with the organization should Sarver return to the team post-suspension.

The company should be commended for this decision. However, it should not fall on them, the players, or social media to push the NBA to make the right choices. The league’s leadership and disciplinary bodies need to re-evaluate their decision-making processes. 

From the Cleveland Browns rewarding known sexual predator Deshaun Watson with a five-year, $230 million contract, to Hockey Canada pocketing money to sweep assaults committed by their players under the rug, professional sports have a true epidemic on its hands.

Robert Sarver should be banned from the NBA forever. Deshaun Watson should never play another snap in the NFL. All of those involved in the Hockey Canada scandal should be fired. 

On paper, these seem the conscious, logical punishments, but apparently, the politics are more important than holding people accountable and protecting their victims. It could be argued that the NBA may even be going backward when compared to 2014. 

It may be time to clean house across professional sports. This Sarver fiasco is just the latest proof of how frighteningly behind the times these leagues and organizations are when it comes to handling assault and misconduct. We all deserve better. 


hockey Canada, NBA, Phoenix Suns, workplace misconduct

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